In the world of books, novelisation is kind of a dirty word. Perhaps it is the fact that, even more than film, literature is the ultimate auteur art form. Indeed whilst the director is the creative focus of the analysis of film, their vision is filtered through and enhanced by collaboration with others. Literature is a solitary art form though. With a novelisation, the author is essentially a bringing someone else’s vision to the page. That may be why the novelisation is derided somewhat as an art form.
I cannot even remember the last novelisation that I read, I know I definitely read some as a kid. So I thought I would take a look at Tim Lebbon’s novelisation of the fantastic Whedon/Goddard horror film The Cabin in the Woods (2012). With its meta approach and visceral, visually arresting finale, the film is one that perhaps does not lend itself totally to the written form. It is a credit to Lebbon then that he is done a pretty darn good, if pulpy, job of bringing it to life. Anyone who has seen the film will know that it is essentially a film split in two. On one hand are the ‘puppet masters’, pulling the strings from an industrial lab style setting. Then there is the titular cabin in the woods, where what is essentially a standard slasher in the woods narrative takes place. This part of proceedings hews very close to The Evil Dead (1981) actually.
Initially the book is a little jarring to read. Most of this is down to a relatively clumsy method used to insert more narrative voice into the book (generally incorporating narrative voice is an issue going from page to screen, but I wouldn’t have thought it necessary when doing the opposite). These italicised insertions are bothersome, but once you get into a rhythm of the book, they become less noticeable. As a writer, Lebbon is best at establishing place. The early run down servo is an especially good (and bloody creepy) example, but both the cabin and the puppeteers’ compound are also starkly brought to life. Whilst I would definitely not argue the book is better than the film, it does do some things exceptionally well. It fleshes out some of the underlying themes and ideas, possibly even better than the film does. The notions of surveillance and nanny states, as well as the toying with ideas of free will are all thrown around in a really interesting way, which makes them much more than just superficial. I guess to balance that, the final explosive passage of the narrative (which I think is one of the most mind-blowing sequences I have experienced on film for a long while) is hurt by not being as searingly visual as it is in the film. But that is not to bag Lebbon. I’m not sure that any writer could bring it to life as well as the film does.
Whilst not always blisteringly written, this is an enjoyable experience and I very happily flicked the pages over at a rapid pace. Like its filmic source, the novel does a good job of engaging with and subverting horror/slasher film conventions without becoming too wink wink about it.
Verdict: Stubby of Reschs
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